Injures and idiocy have done their best to spoil what shaped as the more interesting of the two preliminary finals.
Just when the Giants’ injury luck seemed to have turned, Lachie Whitfield had his appendix removed and Toby Greene got himself suspended for being an idiot – whether you think he deserved to be rubbed out or not, it’s baffling that he even gave the league an excuse after what he’d just been through.
It’s not all beer and skittles on the other side of the field, with Jordan de Goey out for at least tonight with a hamstring injury and Levi Greenwood done for this season and possibly even the next after rupturing his ACL in the Pies’ qualifying final win.
Ben Reid and James Aish come in for the Pies, while Ian “Bobby” Hill and Lachie Keeffe (huh?) are in for the Giants.
That leaves GWS without three of their five best players – Whitfield, Greene and Handsome Steve Coniglio – but not without a chance.
Lost in Geelong’s shadow of mediocrity throughout the second half of the season was the fact the Magpies were also sputtering along.
They’re currently riding a five-game win streak, which includes beltings of Adelaide and Gold Coast, scrappy victories over the Bombers and Demons and their qualifying final win over the Cats.
Five wins in a row is five wins in a row, and bad sides don’t win qualifying finals, but you can still colour me unconvinced.
Even with three ball-winning stars out of the line-up, GWS should still be able to compete around the contest – on the ground at least.
Josh Kelly is one of the AFL’s best players, and Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper are very good. Tagger extraordinaire Matt de Boer will likely get the job on Scott Pendlebury or Steele Sidebottom, and Zac Williams could find himself further up the ground to pick up some of the slack – he’s shown himself to be more than capable.
Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Taylor Adams – whose September reputation seems to grow with every final – Adam Treloar and Tom Phillips might get on top in the centre of the ground, but it’s not an unfair fight … until you get to the big men.
Shane Mumford had his lunch eaten by Stefan Martin a week ago, and even on his best day 2019 Martin is Brodie Grundy Lite.
Collingwood’s dual All-Australian big man will feast on Mumford, and just how much damage he can do with the ball once he wins it – and he’s going to win plenty of it – will shape this game in a big way.
Adam Tomlinson could be called upon to do some heavy lifting against Grundy, and while he’ll get monstered in the hit-outs, he should do a much better job than Mumford at everything after that.
These teams were ranked second (GWS) and third (Collingwood) for contested possession differential during the season, though the Giants were a much better clearance team, ranking second compared to Collingwood’s 11th ranking, but I don’t expect that to mean much this afternoon.
Collingwood’s forward line is rock solid, but without De Goey, it’s not intimidating. Jaidyn Stephenson, Jamie Elliott, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Josh Thomas and Brody Mihocek are all fine footballers. None of them are De Goey.
Reid rarely plays poorly when he’s healthy and should be able to keep either Phil Davis or Nick Haynes busy.
Despite key players missing throughout the year, the Pies converted 23.9 per cent of their inside-50s into goals during the home-and-away season – the fourth-best rate in the league.
The Giants, at 25 per cent, were one spot better, and even sans Greene have a formidable attack.
Jeremy Cameron has taken his already outstanding game to another level this year, and he is brilliantly supported by Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson. Brent Daniels is a very handy small forward.
Darcy Moore is a perfect match-up for Cameron, though Nathan Buckley might decide it’s better to use the rangy defender on a lesser player and let him roam.
The Pies would love to have Tom Langdon out there for a game like this.
It’s a shame there are so many good and better than good players – remember Dayne Beams? – watching from the stands rather than playing in this game, but that’s often the way things go at this time of the year.
The Magpies deserve to be favourites, but I’m expecting a close one.
Collingwood by a goal.
That’s my preliminary final forecast. What’s yours?